Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter Jermaine Dupri is known for his musical instincts, contributing to some of the most prominent careers in R&B and hip-hop music. That includes everyone from Mariah Carey and TLC to Usher and Bow Wow, to name a few. Now, Dupri, a vegan for close to 20 years, is hoping to impact the culture in a different way, and that’s by “putting the flavor in veganism.” His latest venture, JD’s Vegan ice cream, a collection of all-natural plant-based frozen desserts, has made the So So Def Recordings CEO a vegan food connoisseur.
Sold exclusively at Walmart stores, JD’s Vegan has increased from 300 stores to more than 700 since its launch last November. And the number continues to grow.
“We’re getting ready to move into 3,000 stores really soon,” Dupri tells ESSENCE, adding that the biggest challenge has been ensuring the supply can meet the demand. The request for JD’s Vegan has been high, receiving positive reviews from both vegans and non-vegans alike. A few of Dupri’s celebrity friends, including Usher, Keri Hilson, and Da Brat, have even vouched for its tastiness.
The frozen treats are formulated with a base of coconut cream. And although dairy-free, the mixtures mimic the rich, milky consistency found in traditional ice cream.
“We created the ice cream with vegans in mind,” he says. “But it’s also a great entryway to veganism for people who don’t necessarily want to be vegan but want to live a healthier lifestyle.”
He recalled his own introduction to the lifestyle with us. Late nights in the recording studio, traveling, and an unpredictable schedule led to unhealthy habits for the famed producer, who eventually decided he needed to make a change. At that time, vegan brands were limited, making his journey difficult.
“Back then you had to get creative,” he says. “We didn’t have a lot of the options that we have now.”
To jumpstart his vegan journey, he did a 25-day cleanse where he eliminated all animal-based products. After experiencing elevated health benefits, including weight loss and more energy, he adopted veganism as a permanent lifestyle. It’s one of the reasons he believes he has a lot to contribute to the industry.
“Some of the people creating vegan lines aren’t actually vegans,” he points out. “What people can trust about JD’s Vegan is that I’m vegan, and I’m going to make sure it tastes great to me. It’s not something I’m just putting out there.”
To assist in developing the products, he teamed up with Malcolm Stogo, dubbed the “godfather of ice cream,” to design the perfect mixes. Still, the producer says he’s relied on his palette to create healthy desserts that don’t skimp on flavor.
“Everything is pretty much my idea, based on flavors that I like,” he says. “As a vegan, I am the actual demo and create products that taste good to me.”
JD’s Vegan offers six flavors inspired by some of his hit songs and Atlanta, the city he calls home: Apple Butter, Strawberry Sweetheart, Welcome to Atlanta Peach Cobbler, (404) Cookies & Cream, Key Lime Pie, and Chocolate My Way, made with dark chocolate and vanilla bean.
Chocolate My Way has become increasingly popular as the timing of its release aligned with the anniversary of one of his biggest projects, Usher’s classic album, My Way.
He says the release of that flavor wasn’t planned to coordinate with the anniversary, but it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The flavor has been such a hit that it’s ignited another Dupri and Usher collaboration — this time outside of the studio. They’re developing a limited-edition pint of Chocolate My Way to commemorate the occasion, which at the time of our conversation, he hoped to release around the time of Usher’s Las Vegas residency.
“It will be like a collector’s item,” he says. “It will be a one-of-one for sure. If people get it, they should keep it.”
And just as his music portfolio has evolved throughout his career, he also plans to grow in the vegan food industry. His sights are now set on expanding JD’s Vegan to include additional treats such as popcorn and other snacks.
Undoubtedly considered a prominent figure in music, he hopes his impact can extend beyond producing some of the most seminal jams of our time.
“Creating the ice cream is just the beginning,” he says.
But if you’re wondering if he will step away from music to focus solely on his vegan ventures, that’s not happening.
“I’m always going to be in the studio working,” he says. “I’m excited because we’re currently working on a lot of new artists’ albums and have a lot of good stuff coming out.”
The star and multi-hyphenate, who recently received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the Atlanta Institute of Art, says there’s more to come. From music studios to grocery store shelves, Dupri continues to prove that he can add “flavor” to whatever he touches.